Guest Editor - Dan Masterson


Introduction by Jim Bennett

Hello.  Welcome to CITN 31. In this edition we highlight the work of  John Allman

Our guest editor is once again the distinguished poet and teacher Dan Masterson.  In addition to his academic work Dan runs a professional critiquing service which many poets both new and established have benefited from over the years.  I have no reservations in recommending it.  Details can be found at his website  -

You can join the CITN  at -
http://www.poetrykit.org/pkl/index.htm and following the links for Caught in the Net.



What is blue but absence?  A cool wind. Let there be
shadows that gape on hillsides, that ripple and erase
gray mirrors in small ponds: last night’s memory of lightning
the white nerve in its myelin sheath, the sprawled synapse
of the birch that cast caged shadows on the garden.  Bright
days strung like beads on a single frequency, hissing by.
Let there be mornings of color: hands curling over wet cotton,
a grasp opening as cries of birds burst from the trees,
something bundled from the north, howling towards heat.

From - "Clouds"





Creedmoor: The Locked Ward
Former Life
The Weeper

Dostoevsky at Semyonov Square
George Sand at Palaiseau
Bruno Bettelheim at Dachau

On Ellsworth Kelly’s Sculptures
Variation on Heat and Silence
The Birth of Time


Taking the 9:26 Out of Katonah
Emma’s Loss of Hearing
On the Blackness of Sidney
Reading the Times in the Car Wash
From LOEW’S TRIBORO (2004)

Loew’s Triboro
Taking the Case
The Ride Home
 From the working manuscript of LOWCOUNTRY (2005)

Outsider Art
Watching the Medieval Mystery Plays and Thinking of Milton
In the Gullah Flea Market
Scenes from the Passing World

4 - Afterword

You can purchase these books on-line through Amazon at Poetry Kit's Bookshop -



John Allman writes from a vast sense of history and family, bringing us to strict attention. We see  the measures of joy and grief that attend one another, reminders remarkable in their depth and grand in their clarity. He spends his days and words with the utmost care.   
We shudder when he writes of Dostoevsky facing his own mock execution in Semyonov Square: "How precisely stacked the coffins are,/criss-crossed like fingers. Could you breathe/on the bottom, beneath two layers of friends?" And again when we are told, in "Bruno Bettelheim at Dachau," that "The guard tells you to pick up the pebble/bring it/rolling to his palm./It's the wrong one."  And we hunker down in self recognition when we observe "George Sand at Palaieseau,": "She washes him quickly, changes/his nightgown; plants flowers between the rim of his body/and August air/faithful Alexandre." 
From time to time, we are set free: "I am drifting out of myself like an egg of light" into a sphere described as "a gray whirlwind melting through clouds of ash." But again, history unfolds and we learn of a brother, gone: "the northbound train defies hard girders,/this clinking, this clash, this thrum of genial darkness/my arms full of lilies." A sister in a locked ward asks for a gift of footwear, yet he can't "buy shoes/without her feet." Later, an imagined father sits lost in a city diner: "I see my daughter outside dancing for pennies/I'm knocking on the window hey you hey you."  
While most of us stand at the ocean's edge awash in one of the cliches of our smallness, Allman writes: "Nothing/returns from the vast water that does/not crave its tidal beginning." And farther into this astounding gathering of poems, we are given the image of the poet alone with his cat who mimics us all: "Beau crouches where a wren flits from feeder/to myrtle. The little song he twitters in the back of  his/throat fooling no one."  These are poems that stick to the bones, and reside deep in memory.
 -Dan Masterson


 I ask what she needs
write it down
she can't
her penmanship's
a five-year-old's
hair cut close to her head
     mother wants a boy
     and who doesn't
weeping into a balled-up tissue
next time bring tissues
and shoes
would I buy brown shoes?
     tell mother to call
     where is mother
     tell mother to forget it
two fat women
in the immense dayroom
waltzing arm in arm
the boy who borrows cigarettes
     behind them
     singing a hymn
I can't buy shoes
without her feet
     she'd give me
     her feet
I'm thinking of my wife and daughter
I want to leave
     bring tissues
between the casement windows
the young woman laments
     her abortion at 20
     who really had none
     what happened to the dog
     did you put him to sleep
     where is mother?
I look across the room
at the unused pool table
cues lined up dusty as WW1 rifles
     small voices weeping
     in my throat
smell cooking smell
canned peas and carrots
Salisbury steak
     thin gravy voice
     of the old schoolteacher
     playing old songs
     at the piano
     the fat women
     trotting in a circle
     the boy with crinkled knees
     saying his doctor
     will never change
     asks me for a nickel
     asks me for a pencil
O it's time
traffic is heavy
the bridge tolls up
I live across two rivers
I've filled her shopping bag
full of Kools
cookies soft candies
a new robe
     love to the family
     don't forget love to the family
Sunday, in my office,
opposite the beige brick church,
I look up from the blank page.
The four clocks in the four faces
of the tower are telling different
times.  Each way I turn,
the hands of the separate clocks
of the separate selves
pose into this and that
posture, dancers
test and change their gestures,
tuning four faces one by one
to me, each face that I fear
to become or to come out of.
There I am
in the photo
wearing a sawtooth beanie,
throwing a pink rubber ball at the camera:
1945, the fleet's coming up the Hudson,
barooming salutes.  The Pom...Pom...Pom
is not the noise I expected,
not ripping the air.
I throw the ball at the camera
which is being held by Mr. Weber
home from Italy with a wooden leg.
Profile:  boy with hooked nose,
hair curved over forehead and behind ear;
silver jacket with fur collar.
Some mistake of the film.
Strange exposure.
The boy stares
at something beyond the frame.
Is that me, fat and blond,
held up in my father's arms?
I clutch the lapel of his pin-stripe suit
while the roof's
black tar and open chimneys
devour the sunlight.
Alice poses on the roof,
my sister:  just plump enough
to swell out beneath
the edges of her bathing suit.
TV antennas poke at the sky like broken claws.
Her English jaw hangs heavy on her smile.
We're sitting in the bright sun
of Uncle Charlie's backyard
near the el's spiderweb shadows.
In short pants,
propping Danny on my lap,
I scowl at the camera
and wonder why brothers cry all night.
His pug nose defies
Nowhere do I find my mother
married.  Another roof picture:
almost seven years before
her daughter will be born.
She's 20:  her white dress
stark against the black roofs and open doorways.
The turn in her eye is coy,
evading the camera's eye.
The frills on her short sleeves are pretty.
The Depression is still on.
There I am
on the beach
holding my brother Stevie.
He squints at the sun and reflects
my father
who is propped on his elbows in the sand.
Sometimes they all seem dead
though they try to pursue me into marriage
and my thirty-fifth year and though I often
wake with my father in my arms trying to save him
from his early death and I still cannot find
a picture of my mother married and the coy eye
evades me in my dreams and my sister grins on the roof.
Instructor of English, appointed 1967
No, this can't be right
“Mr. Allman” shines white on black
on the door of 205 Eddy Hall
a trapped hawk claws
the back of my eyes
I walk on naked feet
from one abstraction into
another   coughing up feathery bones
   diplomas curl on the wall
one child, daughter, age six
For Eva whom I describe
as the nymph leaping out of the summer night
into my room:
why should I mark you with words
like savage tattoos?
The Jerome Avenue el squeals
in the valley beneath us
sparking the midnight
our veins thunder   they thunder
love's release
all night
the hollow-eyed white bird
my love
my love
damn these words
what are words
what are words
rags stuffed into a mouth
it seems so long ago
we married
The future holds her in a box,
a small woman with hair turning white.
Even in death, her eye turns away.
The mad don't get madder
biting the spoons in their mouths
(tranquilizers steam in the blood
like fog on a tropical river, the air
fills with the cries of beautiful birds).
The clocks on the four faces of a tower
turn their sibling hours into lust,
meditation, fear, and a blank face:
the nothing that fills in each minute
like a sound that congeals in the air,
a noise that is seen, suddenly, twisting
into a vapor, a thread, that passes away.
I awaken to the midnight bird
who ruffles his wings, preening
(no humans in my dream,
only the sun here, the bird).
On the tips of my fingers
there are tiny photographs
and my eyes open their lenses
to let something fly out
fluttering toward carnival mirror
camera closeups:  gyrating faces,
big noses, small eyes, rectangular mouths.
Sudden silence. The sun's myriad
bells toll out light
that beams upward from my cool sheets,
my wife's hips. I arise spreading my arms
like a frail bird running into a thin breeze,
I'm aloft, above the glinting Hudson River,
riding upwards on a voice I still cannot hear,
impelled on its beautiful pure lung force,
up, up, up, my brain softly exploding,
fingers stroking my head, my eyes,
my beak. There is wreckage everywhere
washed up on the mud islands, where the sun's knives
cut through water:  beer cans, twisted logs, scummy
weeds, curled strips of exposed film.  I see the
body of a dog and I scream for joy.
The face appears on the blank page:
my mother's eyes;
the nose hooked like her mother's.
The jaw belongs to some Victorian
Englishman, or a coal miner
who looks like D. H. Lawrence.
It's me.
The Methodist Church
turns a paler beige year by year.
The rectangular tower
keeping four points of time
turns in a circle
and hands on the clocks
give their gestures
in the repetition of hours.
I hear the fleet coming downriver
in fog, barooming salutes,
while the tall boats, draped in black,
carry the dead to sea.
A narrow cobbled street:
my house with the slate roof
and upstairs rooms with fireplaces.
I'm looking down on the gaslights
paling in the street:  dawn, cool air,
the footsteps of the Watch.
I hear my youngest daughter
coughing up the last of illness.
My son is up, preparing the stove,
the hot water for his tea.
Soon he will go to the shop,
his work as apprentice:  the fine
tools; the ridged detail of silver;
snuff boxes; plates that will be
heirlooms; memorial cups.
I lean into my wife's body,
I face the ceiling.  In this life,
I sleep on the left side of the bed,
my left hand is missing a middle finger,
my two daughters have dark eyes,
my wife is a large woman
who loves music and my tenor voice.
I'm doing it openly at a Formica table
in Bickford's the waitress gives me hankies
the Puerto Rican family is waving & nodding
    my father is the counterman scraping
    his shoes poor man he steps in everything
my mother the immigrant woman mopping
the floor I weep into her bucket's milky
water O look it's never too late mother
    but the bouncer in tuxedo's coming at me
cry he says keep crying out you go you
drifter who let you in unshaven your feet
poking through sneakers sit up straight
    I see my daughter outside dancing for pennies
    I'm knocking on the window hey you hey you
my father says close your eyes we're counting
the receipts go to sleep your mother is tired
leaning on the mop O it's my sister O lucky
    brother don't stuff napkins in your mouth
quick a menu waitress where am I listen here
I am below the Saturday blue special baked
fool with hash-browns & week-old lettuce
    bring me death & pancakes bring me something
    before it's too late I can weep for at 25 cents
it's my wife blowing her nose it's good she says
O lucky husband no one but you weeps so well
come to bed in the ice days of January in the
evening beneath the quilt you can cry into my hair
 from CLIO'S CHILDREN (1985)
It's snowing into the prison courtyard, into the fog,
   into your sleep:  bits of light chipping
   off Tatar cheekbones.  They're taking you
somewhere.  The young soldier, with a wispy red beard
like yours, tells you:  "We have been told to tell you
   nothing."  You nod.  There's Petrashevksy
   and Durov, hunched shadows, temples hollow
as spoons, otherwise unchanged, like specimens in jars
of alcohol.  Did they talk?  The soldier reminds you of you,
   racing in the woods of Darovoye, between birch
   and hazel trees, naked swords and blue uniforms.
The wart on his cheek.  A dull copper button.  The beauty
of Russia, vivid as a red glove, the crushed skull
   of a horse,
   General Rostovstev's teeth:  the mind sharpening itself
   on details, as hooves echo off stone walls,
you're pushed forward.  Belinsky who put you here was right.
Men traffic in men.  Christ wears the Tzar's epaulettes.
But who invented such cold?  Thin overcoat, shirt, cravat,
   Yanovsky's borrowed suit:  you're fit for an
   interview.  Must you always owe 500 roubles?
"Mikhail, I shall be a great success or leap into the Neva."
"All I desire is to keep well."  What is the lesson of damp
   straw?  A window eight feet high?  A metal
   table on which those before you etched
their names?  You shiver, and recognize the silence
in the soldier's gray eyes:  the five closed silhouettes
   of waiting carriages.  ("Driver, to Shill's
   house.  Quickly!")  In you go, not alone,
   four to a carriage, the one window opaque with frost.
You scratch at the light with your unbitten nail
   as the guard
   tells you to stop or he'll be flogged.
   Must you be sympathetic?  Poor Grigoriev
is giggling, falling apart in the corner of this last
boxed-in space you'd gladly occupy for a thousand years.
Or is this a dream, the rocking motion of a cradle?
   "Maminka, I am overcome with sadness..."
   The driver's whip cracking overhead like God's
knuckle, you have mother's medallion, rubbed smooth,
thumbed beyond recognition, like your first book's extravagant
   praise.  A tremor in your groin.
   Father's hopes crushed in the hands
of peasants.  How many ways did Belinsky do you in?
"I was wrong about D.  He's a hack."  You engineer
   your own interrogation, as horizontals
   invade your mind, knee jolts against knee.
At Moscow windows, you saw the patients from the Hospital
of the Poor, brushing past the hedge, their gowns open
   in the back.
   Now if some healer told you to kneel, you'd kneel.
   To go on breathing, you'd kiss
the hand opening the carriage door, as you stoop into freezing
air, gleaming cupolas above you, the Holy virgin of Vladimir.
There must be 3000 people here, rubbing their hands,
   stamping like the soldiers' horses
   backing into dung.  The steam obscuring
their eyes, the breath escaping though the peasants'
crenelated teeth, rising like the clouds above boiling
   cabbage.  Your face should be wrapped in
   scarfs like bandages.  You see the platform,
a bandstand covered with a black cloth, under two inches
of white:  the morning turning inside-out, as sun breaks through
   like a dream, like a legend
   of church spires.  Oh no one will die.
How wonderful the Tzar is, his angels descending with sabers,
prodding awareness to the pitch of ecstasy.  How neat they are,
   three oak posts
   in the ground, perfectly spaced.  There's
   Speshnev, Palm, Mombelli, casting parallel
shadows on the snow.  You're mounting the hastily built platform
outside yourself, amazed, looking down on your blond head.
Never such fatigue, never such clarity:  the church
   burning through the scrim of fog,
   the sunlight like a bishop's upended crook,
glinting near your neck.  You're at the far end
of the first row, intrigued by the crumpled edges
   of cloth pulled tight over angles
   and oblong shapes in the cart they're
driving up.  How precisely stacked the coffins are,
   criss-crossed like fingers.  Could you breathe
   on the bottom, beneath two layers of friends?
Some of you are being separated out, born noble, brought
forth:  the soldier holding the sword over your head
   snaps it mid-
   air, reducing you to an ordinary man.
   Your soul writhes, convulsed, revolted
by the measure of darkness you might have unsheathed
in sour attic rooms, brandishing an axe, or hateful grin.
You kneel, disgraced and penitent, kissing
   the crucifix offered by the priest
   who walks between the rows.  Your lips
almost freeze to the metal, like those of dead Jews
in a shtetl, face down in the ironworks, purged
   by heavenly Cossacks.  Every man bends to it,
   even Petrashevsky, whom they're dressing
in a white, hooded gown, as he laughs:  "They
don't know how to dress a man."  You have five minutes
   to divide three ways.  Farewell to friends
   not yet tied to posts.  Greetings to the worn
sinners rising like saints from the gray creases of your
brain, in the harrowing of your past, as you struggle
   to clear the
   strangled vowel of your voice in the mystery
   of being cruel to be wise.  How lucky you are.
You'd have gone mad in a wallow of hopes, in a grammar
of lust, beyond the cool hand of the Tzar, uncorrected.
The last minute is for the torn lace of snowflakes
   beginning to fall; the cart horses champing
   their bits; the cupolas like domes of pale fire;
the sound of Kashkin weeping.  How should this cease?
It is impossible the dead should not hear the clods
   of earth breaking two inches
   above their eyes.  The rigid look
of the soldier's jaw, like the feel of your pen
draft after draft, is the first intention of a character's
   face.  But whose?  You would have drawn
   the great sinner, raised him above revolt,
dragged him from monasteries to gaming tables, given him
definition.  Your mind is fixed on a point that trembles
   like a dust-
   mote within a drop of water
   hung by mysterious force, pulled narrow
to the flats of gravity.  Your feet are suddenly heavy,
your hands wet with light.  Could you rise through that sky?
Who is this galloping into the Square, waving a white
   handkerchief?  You are saved.  Rostovtsev
   grins.  The fabled messenger has arrived
in the nick of last minutes:  his moustache dryly
pasted above his lip; he is almost too late, descending
   from nowhere, his cloak hanging like
   carboard drapery, his arms at his sides,
folded wings.  Rostovtsev reads your reprieve, stuttering
through the awkward consonants you never thought to hear
   alive.  But what is he announcing?
   Four years?  Can the heart pronounce it?
You'll be taken to Tobolsk, to Omsk, across the salutary
waste of Siberia, deep into legendary cold, where milk
   spills in thin
   frozen slabs and despair is common as the hard
   muds of April.  You do not expect to die again
in a single fetid room, hemmed in by suffering of other men
dour in brimless caps, as you invent your sin and redemption.
For the moment, no bad odor.  Limbs bend.  Eyes stare
     toward the memory of the hand
closing them.  She washes him quickly, changes
his nightgown; plants flowers between the rim of his body
     and August air,
     faithful Alexandre.
He'd said nothing when she ran off with Marchal.
How he whimpered in the cold bath, telling her
     to continue Fuster's
     treatment, saddened
by the burden he was for Madame.  Fifteen years,
still he would not use "tu".  Did she ever love a man
     not frail?  His hand
     thin as light, lifting
a gesture to the window, sliding beyond her grasp.
Wheat fields, bloodied by sun, streaming toward Paris.
Without him, now, she will write...advice to new friends.
     Flaubert would redo the scene,
rearrange the pillows, have a cart rumble
into a rut, put the window on the west wall,
     lamplight falling obliquely on a youthful face.
     She listens to birds.  The cook's clatter.  Downstairs,
last week, his sister held her ears, while he inhaled
     the “gaz.”  She remembers
     Valdemosa; Chopin's pallid
hand fading into Etudes, while she wrote furiously,
her study a fumoir; workmen shaking their heads
     after hauling the piano
     up the mountain;
the smell of fish, olive oil, garlic oozing
like salt from the walls, from a thrashing sea.
She's finished the novel, Le Bonheur, left intact
     the bits of dialogue Alexandre
contrived.  Their novel, to give him something
of life, in making art. She reads her diary entry:
     "The will to heal
      is all."  Not the oaf
her son, Maurice, called him, he seems perfectly
quiet.  He'd won some of the arguments, rewritten
     some of the parts
     for the puppet shows
at Nohant.  And she sewed his clothes, the tiny
trousers, while friends argued across the room
     with the dancing
     marionettes.  A son's jealousy
swells like the Indre, swirls a muddy water
about her thighs.  Lovers are swept away like debris.
Men say she talks like a man, the odor of cigars
     in her hair,
clinging to her dress, the stink of equality.
What a husband forgets a son picks up as his own:
     Maurice, imminent
     landlord of Nohant, seigneur
of orchards, pavilion, and woods, telling her she's
too old.  For two nights, she sits near the body,
     mourning little Nini
     and Cocoton, the grandchildren
also gone.  The cupboard of her hearing about to close,
how long will she write of love?  Visitors arrive, but
     not upstairs:  his sister weeping,
     fearing the dead face.  The church will not
bless his ground.  She must carry him into plain earth.
“Do not worry.  I shall not be ill.  I refuse to be ill."
In the morning, autumn glistens.  Alexandre's presence,
     as in life, recedes, allowing her
to be herself.  It was good to be in Paris, the Odeon,
Theatre-Francais, where the voice carries out of Nature
     the passion life cannot
     afford.  Perhaps she'll write
Marchal; tell how blood rises, old women clutch
their shawls, remembering the long hands of Liszt.
     Her mood is for children's
     tales.  At night, crisp
emanations of the stars.  Recently, at dawn, mist
rolling through trees, fluency returned:  ten pages,
     and birds
     flapping into the wet air.
She emerges from the cloud of cigarette smoke, someone's
Muse, but does not find him etching, dark eyes dilating.
Marchal, “fat darling, this morning in Paris, an early
     breakfast, someone else
     in your arms, what do you remember of art?”
It's a new age, seeking hardness; Flaubert's music
     of objects.
     Poor Marie, beloved Dorval,
that full voice breaking over an audience of stones.
"Dear Gustave, what are you doing?--grinding away,
     I fancy, you, in solitude too...
     mother probably in Rouen.  Do you
sometimes spare a thought for `the old troubadour
of the ale-house clock, who sings, and will always sing
     of perfect love'?"
     The wind creaks toward winter,
sweeping voices aloft, an opera of the damned.  Someone will
write of her.  The peasants of La Chatre?  A drunken mayor?
No one believes in her minor aches--as if she owned
     more than her reputation,
with Solange, her daughter, the slut of Europe! 
The lead weight of the Second Empire still keeps wives
     in place.  Let the lovers
     enter their fiacres,
drive south away from husbands who tattle in books
about nothing.  In old age, a new magnetism:  the moon
     drawing up the vapors
     of a ragged field,
pulling at her blood, tugging the half-surfaced soul
that keeps going under.  In abstinence, a red death.
     “Marchal, huge springtime,
     we grow plump, and France
lacks exaltation.  How many dinners purchase a hug?
I'm an infant, without sex or energy, blinking at the dark.”
She pulls at her hair, remembering how she'd cut it off
     and sent it in a box
to Musset, a final blow.  Poor Alfred, on the crossing
to Genoa, groaning in his cabin, sick as a girl.
     She wrote for hours,
     stood on deck, took sea-spray
full in the eyes.  Delacroix would paint her now
all lines, without color:  changing his art
     because she did not
     remain young.
She can still look to heaven!  Hands clasped, face
pale in its own light.  She can still hear Balzac
     huffing up the stairs,
     hugging loaves of bread
for Jules and the runaway Aurore.  She hears mice.  A faint
scratching at her heart.  Things from God that must return.
Run.  Run.  Inside the Jourhaus, they erase your name.
     The nearest face blurs
     into a voice, shrieking
you cannot replace your broken glasses here.
You can't see the sleeve of the new man you are.
     In the distance of rattling
     cattle cars, a sudden engine
takes away your breath, grizzled men sneer.
A tyro, your number is too high.  They tell you
     about the old days,
     when the smart ones died.
Ten miles from Munich?  Earth's end seemed further
toward darkness, the edge of a Polar sea, beyond
     habitation.  Your head aches.
     You're bleeding from your
side.  If you faint, they will carry you off,
into the space between trees, their final empire.
The guard tells you to pick up the pebble,
     bring it
     rolling to his palm.
It's the wrong one.  Older prisoners stare at dirt
lodged under fingernails.  If the rifle butt comes
     down, you'll never again
     tie a string:  child, fumbling
with shoelaces, despised like the man eating grass,
"Moslem" in filth.  Will another pebble change you?
     Will there be a Bettelheim
     using "I,"
awakening in a different skin, rushing out at 4 a.m.,
when sirens scream for the peeling away of self?
     He laughs, walking away,
     only a boy
talking of your castration.  In prison, a man
spits on his neighbor, reviles his God, slaps his friend.
Here's the Kapo.  Jew beating Jew.  You face the wall
     like a dunce, you become
     invisible.  You can't ask the enemy
why he assists the enemy.  You quiz a failing memory:
name the town you come from, the school, who wrote
     the last letter,
     quoting someone who quoted
you.  There's a middle-class man weeping
because they do not call him "Herr."  Is there
     status on the dung
     hill?  The SS marches
through, where frail men stare at stones
like autistic children.  Others are waving flags,
     tightening armbands,
     jealous brothers
complaining to father.  You walk, to find out
what a man's born to be, curving to the shape of a blow.
Three weeks.  Not three years.  You're still alive.
     The guard shoots
     over the row of straw beds.
Nothing nicked.  It's a good job.  You can get on line
for coffee.  In winter, they let you sleep
     until the farm animals
     yawn, and stir,
standing in stalls, stained by their own urine.
Are they driven out five abreast?  The guard is pointing
     to your number.
     He's taking you
to the Jourhaus, for release, smiling.  Finally,
you've been recognized, paid for, lifted dripping
     from a sewer.  But he brings you
     back.  Oh some mistake
on your part, having hope.  A truncheon prods body
to the limit.  The spirit snaps like a small stick.
Starvation edema.  Cheeks swollen.  Eyes glittering.
     The orchestra of ragged men
     had brass violins
in your dream.  And he's done it, the man
who promised to hang himself.  How does one hold on?
     You'll always sleep
     curled into a ball.
This one clutches a crust of bread.  He calls women,
and whimpers, and masturbates, with no result.
     There's nothing special
     about dying.  Why do the new ones
talk of escape?  The Kapo ladles soup from the top
if you're stupid.  Your blood's thin as an old woman's,
     whispering in your ears,
     the mind a bowl
filling with images.  You lift something to the light
like the rumor of a double ration of bread.  An idea.
Record.  Remember.  It's what the child you took into your
     home could not feel
     in his clenched fist.
He arrived without a name to turn to, almost without
a skin, a surface to touch.  You taught him textures
     of food, the point of a pin,
     the arc of an encircling arm.
Did he remain numb to spite your goodness?  When
does the tongue taste sand?  Only new prisoners talk
     of humiliation.  War.
     Think, rather, what vegetable's
in the soup.  How the guard knocks men with glasses
into the latrine pit, calling them "asshole,"
     while the Brick Commando
     trots past.  How the Commandant,
impersonal as a photograph, standing in the compound
back of his home, peers through a hole in your chest.
What is blue but absence?  A cool wind. Let there be
shadows that gape on hillsides, that ripple and erase
gray mirrors in small ponds: last night’s memory of lightning
the white nerve in its myelin sheath, the sprawled synapse
of the birch that cast caged shadows on the garden.  Bright
days strung like beads on a single frequency, hissing by.
Let there be mornings of color: hands curling over wet cotton,
a grasp opening as cries of birds burst from the trees,
something bundled from the north, howling towards heat.
The empty curve: taut from horizon to horizon,
a stiff canopy.  Thunder.  As if the sun bowled through
a tunnel in space, and fell, and rose on white-hot wings.
Gray, driven scud: huge knees leaning on earth,
floods filling ravines, trees turgid; black billows
the fumes of flight, as sparrows crash into garage windows.
Once, these forsythia stooped under late, wet snow.
Rain gutters glistened, pulling away from the house.  No
words from the ice world.  A blankness in speech like cumulus.
That formation of rags, caught by the wind,
fluttering over the pinched river, the gray skin of sea.
You are drawn to a salty medium, this estuary that is
the tide of our pulse, pock-marked by a needling-down
from the surface of stars, the leaking light, a turning
over: the bright sides of particles like scurf
from the moon, a kind of madness, an acid
whiteness.  You open like night-blooming narcissus
to great movements, a cracking of sky, uninhabited worlds.
Now they are the floating heaps of bleached
dust; vistas temporary between them, where no navigation
takes us through, as if passage opened and closed, the salt 
falling from the air, a swell rising beneath us, dark
seething, the hump and glow of furnaces the other side
of steel mills, low mountains.  And on they drift: vast
white silhouettes, dampness and ice, the mist a soft fabric
that clings to the faces of climbers.  We hear the hum
of suspension bridges, the gasp of heights, tires hot on macadam.
If they merged forever into a concave ceiling:
leaving us gray, etiolated, eyes useless and frosted,
fingertips the only retinas; our reach implying spaces
we have never seen; electrostatic drops warping into
the fluid wavering of gravity.  Rain our inconstant
condition, gone by evening; noctilucent islands
in slow procession below the moon, dreams gaping
among trees; one’s own hand translucent; shadows of stones
bulging within one’s touch.  A silence.  Sky the only motion.
I am drifting out of myself like an egg of light,
looking down the river that souls cross, slipped
free of their garments, their soft plasma still imprinted
with faces, the twitch of lips, the look you and I
must surrender.  I see the zigzag traces of their final
energies, the ribbons of speech I tried to unfurl,
wisps of darkness trailing like hair from disappearing
skulls.  My hands wink out, dissolve in the star-stream.
By what sign will I know you if the spirit has no eyes?
Bands of color are jostling bones along the spectrum.
A hot spark ignites atomic air, torn spirals of molecules,
gases condensing into spines, my pale self shifting into yours.
The light I travel within begins to swell, its membrane
bursting.  Am I falling within myself at such a speed,
shall I lose you to darkness?  There's no voice within
cordless throats.  A blunt mountain rises to meet me,
words drifting in space, seeking the shapes of mouths.
Here's where angels used to gather with their animal souls,
their goat feet, their jackal heads, their curve talons,
before beasts were driven onto the plain, pursued by fire.
Can nature be this flat, so frontal, like a wall?
This is the plugged mouth of a tunnel, removed,
bolted to the floor, pure entrance, where body is denied.
It's the memory of ore.  The blankness that darkens words.
If light could be poured like molten steel, molded
into plates that curved, held facing the sun,
and aged a thousand years, in salty air,
we'd confront it, learn to harvest wheat, with gray
at our backs.  We'd be thin and wide, heavy
with longing, our spines pulled to earth's magnetic
core.  The restless among us would shift in the ground,
dig like triangles, plunge like slats, heave
like slabs over ice.  We'd awaken to a slanted sky,
our mouths askew, heaviness in the right side
of our heads.  Love would be a roundness dreamt
in the geometry of embrace.  Hands forever horizontal.
And when they propped us in museums, the tubular
patrons, the new humanity, evolved and coinless,
would walk behind us, speaking gibberish,
as we grew sad and stiff:  such chill not unhappiness,
but reduction, lost heat, where sides disappear.
They'd bring everyone on line up front, huddled
behind our faces, particular lives melding
to touch the universal surface.  Anonymity the perfect art.
Hornets overhead in a canopy of catalpa bloom,
humming a bass to high notes in the tatter
of my damaged hearing, the hemlock newly sunk
with its balled roots in front of the picture window,
shaped like a Scotch pine, a Christmas tree without ornament;
my back stiff, loose dirt filling my gloves with grit,
the mockingbird swaying on the tip of blue spruce
coaxing me with his bogus cardinal's call into idleness:
on such a day, in the midst of huge labors, the dinosaurs
busy in the far swamps, insects unflexing their wiry legs,
their multi-eyed cubist heads titled toward interstices of air,
perhaps it was then the sun's sister entered the Oort cloud,
her small red nimbus like the mist a god's messenger arrives in,
and she wooed stray comets out of their fitful orbits,
gave them a new direction, a new union-to-be in the random
curvatures of her dance, and they penetrated the webs
of Jupiter and Saturn, broke through the secondary light of moons
that make their own tides in the ocean-free unending darkness,
and they came in a shower of dust, a great buzzing,
their vivid tails slapping mountains, bending back the trees,
a gray whirlwind melting through clouds of ash, land everywhere
the clay-absorbing hunger, the sludge and bones of reptiles
   without name.
It must have crystallized in a spiral galaxy
like the darkly glittering neutrons of a twinless
star, skimming along the curve of everything
expanding like lungs, before breath could be,
before the cooled and irregular fistlike chunk of sun
became the ridges of Himalaya, before gases
choked themselves free of oceans.  It visited this place
like a comet, the long tail its accumulated force,
where nothing could be amazed, nothing tremble
or shrink with pain.  It arrived transparent as bird calls,
hot as fever, pointed to penetrate membranes
and the pulsing wings of dragonflies.  It was here,
crowding molecules, linking the twisted chains
of such small secretions it seemed random and trivial,
while sun-flares cauterized the earth's crust,
the land heaved it bowels into the boiling seas.
It grew hungry and afraid, without enemies, without needs,
without a diaphanous sheath, without the filling
of a single vacuole, or something fleeing.  It embraced
itself, hugged those corkscrew filaments, gagged
a mouth into being:  the stars arranging themselves
into the figures of men, women, bears, the startled
nymphs, making patterns before eyes could see,
as it filled the newly formed air with the first scream.
  There is only this
steel bridge rusted out
boats upended
on a muddy slope       swans congregating
                 on Muscoot reservoir
      the western hill
           you call your mountain
         this overcast
            squaring off a rounded
                    shoreline          stone and glass
                     stripped of bark by white-tail
                   deer         there is only
                        our blood
               converging           our mixed
              inheritance of dirt from Irish
the fields of Krk          eons of insensate
                      angular unconformities
                                 of Being
                          imitating granite and
                          basalt       heaved
                      into a dream of
                             Adriatic air
we are
here        we are here
in the smallest fold
              of unborn
            turning off the road
            behind our house
watching a haggard hawk
               swoop to her
a wound occurring
among pines
        in there the small
    scream              the sudden
              the cud
       of a violent cosmos
          spewed into the eventual
             coolness of a peony's
            the scarlet peony here
            simply to be here
             again                 as the yellow
                               finch is here
                         on our wide-mesh fence
                         that protects New Guinea impatiens
                   from the dog         the finch
                           here above the hidden
                           blackness of the cat
                           in the cool hostas
          the finch singing
where I dig up plantain
          from the driveway
                           where sparrows scour
        the naked stone
for seed                    dandelions rooted between
                        broken cinder blocks
                            and brick     the beige
                  spider suddenly the exact color
                        we have painted
                         our garage
         the finch and his
         mate              flying the curve of a sine wave
        into the storm-broken
         branch of a maple        into
                                    opportunity above the cat
                  and spider
Opposite Daufuskie Island
                              Sound yields
                  to the open sea
     where we harvest
          a low tide's
                            the sea cucumber opening
                            her tentacles
                in the plastic cup we fill with water
      sister to the hydra
             listen                 we might
                                 amble in the twilight
                            on jointed legs
our skeletons external                    turning knee-deep
in the shallows of the sand bar we might radiate a more exact
        symmetry                        extrude a pharynx
                                   in the long wash of sunset
                              our tanned
                           faces uplifted
                           to receive the shadows
                            of pelicans
the bony parts
and the soft parts                    in the green capacity
                               of sea lettuce   making
                                        selves from
                light and the salty secretions of coral
                        and the bequeathed movement of the first
alga into a puddle
                     that dried into land
                    where we might have been blue-green
                              or brown or red
          hungry for the touch
            of beetle legs
            on trigger hairs
          snapping shut spiny lobes
          while we slowly digest
            death and grow
               alert to the purposes
   of hardness   the long projection of the horseshoe crab's
             like a weapon    a deadly dart
    that we see it
into the
   sand to
   upright itself
                                     its carapace later
                                                       a thin
                              crackling papyrus
                              in the dog's jaws
what would we do clinging and sedentary in a moist habitat
what would we think facing each other across minute distances
like the barely distinguishable parts of moss or the chipped
pine cone that has come to rest beneath pink and yellow zinnias
what amphibian lurch of the backbone takes us into the compost
where the tortoise lays her eggs and the small cadavers of
toads have been flung by the mower's blades what would we assert as
ours as desire is ours as the distinct cavity of the mouth is ours
We have come
to this
  of Sea Pines Plantation
not to forget the twin bridges into Charleston
and the fright of traveling
                            thin steel over so much harbor
not to forget the ladies weaving sweet
      grass into baskets
            among cut flowers in front of a circular church
not to be able to say
a Gullah sentence and
know nothing of black women
who live by the quick twinings of their fingers
        who walk on sand
 between washed-up
    reeds and razor-sharp
    burrs         carrying life
         on the surface of pain
not to believe the blind life of plants could be unthinkingly ours
not to be
automatic as filter-feeding
                        mosquito larvae beating a current
            into their gullets      the earthworm
            grinding particles
in its gizzard
            not to know the backward-curved teeth of the snake
holding down what is already a bulge in the body though everywhere
                                a need to take
         to have out-there
   where will begins
                  as the hunger of oxygen entering blood
            whispering through the spiracles
of grasshoppers
          into the stomata of shade-loving trees
the action of any orifice
           a sentience a decision
selection a kind of pleasure
in momentum
              the way we drove to Bogue Island
     and watched the lightning's jagged plunge
sever the sky to make our flooded route rich in ozone
felt it entering our pores
  when we parked at Starvin' Marvin's
letting the sky carry its load of darkness south
from Hatteras
    as if there had to be just so much of it
out there in the distance to shade the cornfields
to move us closer
to each other   
 to balance light and salt in the clear lymph that flows
            between the heart's pulse and the first
entry of something
into a wound             
   that was the sky itself
that was the white-capped water of Atlantic Beach
and the next day's clear weather
through Emerald Isle                                 
   the gouged woods where condominiums proliferated
like organisms
and we talked of sulfur dioxide
used to kill the wild yeasts
that spoil wine                 
   we sang our road songs
spilled the last coffee from a broken thermos
    felt the air
moving against us twisting through the vents
sliding along the outer surface of our human
here it is
home tiered slope of orange cosmos and white phlox
again again 
the swollen pods of sweet william
long-necked succulents  low-lying
   blue ageratum along the slate-walk
nothing nothing
calls in dialect
so truly
as the wood thrush marking his particular tree
                  his thin border like our
Dogwood Lane between
a neighbor revving
his open-throated
Trans-Am and me
hurtling on the tractor
downhill behind the peach trees
                        all this roaring
each side of a street  
all this singing from the mulberry tree
struggling up between Douglas firs
all this counterpoint of bird and bird      
magnolia and mimosa
                    the separate tangles of caged harmonies  
of blown
blossoms and just emerging puffs
of scarlet  up there in the mimosa something like
sea anemones      
   the hummingbird darting across her habitat
   into the dilated dusk of our eyes
where the Japanese beetles fall into a plastic bag
duped by synthetic mating scent                                               
by the pheromone that brings them copulating in the peach-colored roses
            where I pluck them in pairs
crack them between thumb and forefinger
in this August afternoon when I would seek the ants
that stroke aphids to milk for their honeydew
I would see the round dance
    and the waggle dance of bees       
           I would tell you just how distant
our food is from the hive
how many meters my instinct travels to attract your
touch where you tie up wandering
                       morning-glory's mauve trumpets
                     (thinking of Steven)
Off-peak time.  Cumulus high
as raised elbows in the window
across Railroad Avenue, hair falling
to the floor in Al's barber shop,
qualities scissored away.  Sparrows
flutter up from the third rail
like angel voices to inhabit our soft
bodies, 700 Volts.
It was whiteness all around you,
the bandage of your trepanned skull.
I watch a father kissing his infant's sour cheek,
the Egyptian driver of North Star Taxi
blowing steam from coffee, his fogged window
weeping for the blackness of tires
thrown near tracks, his breath like smoke
rising from camps at the Jordanian border.
   White the background of numbers
   on a telephone dial, the fleece
   of eburine clouds, your boyhood
   on its back in Astoria Park,
   witnessing the sky.
The Korean girl wakens to someone
squawking on the conductor's box:
"You're watching me?  Who's watching you?"
her red sports jacket no longer roseate,
white phallus of Parliament Lights
gouging into the dumpster filled with hemlock
clippings and plain dirt,
the oxidized steel tower
twisted with ivy like an Ancient
exposing his infant,
cruciform windows in mausoleums,
drained crucifixes, unredness, narrow nothings,
the car seat on the slope, its coils unsprung,
Prestone jugs oozing something green.
   The priest's alb as he lifted his arms
   to praise the rooms a god saved for our souls,
   bony rooms white as teeth.
Buildings boarded up.  Burned-out.
A fat man walking fast, pumping his arms
up 125 Street, yesterday's store roof
collapsing onto shoppers below, shattered
glass loud as plunked piano keys,
the flash of water from open hydrants
lost where sound swallows light in the secret life
of tunnels, overhead bulbs, lit arrows,
we're under the city.
   White the anger you emitted on your breath,
   trapped in snow the blank mystery
   of your smile, the clean linen
   of your friends that you did not bloody,
   all you touched a platinum powder
   spilling into rivers, the pallor of
   thirty pills you swallowed on 14th Street.
Underground men
dimly seen on platforms, men in tiny offices
with sooted windows, "Cab-->" chalked on a brick
wall, flourescent strips vivid as nerve
flickering where leaf-rustle of the north-
bound train defies hard girders,
this clinking, this clash, this thrum
of genial darkness
   my arms full of lilies.
That small artery to the small bones,
eighty years of blood:  tiny hammers
that tap a heard voice, the soughing trees,
an inhabited code you awakened to,
smiling, the pink coverlet drawn to your chin.
A hiss.  An emptiness
like the inside of a fruit:  dark,
your husband's mouth opening and closing,
collapsed flower,
the way stars implode, after momentary redness,
drawn into themselves, your husband's words gone back
down, swallowed.
There, he must have said, "there,"
pointing to his left ear, then at yours,
as if diaphanous demons had flitted across,
their mosquito-songs what you feel entering your blood,
and what taking out, what silence.
Splash of water.  Thermostat's "click."
A storm door thumping when you feel the blast
of cold air.  Vibrations through your shoes,
a truck going past, the smell of diesel exhaust.
A chickadee's at the feeder,
snatching sunflower seeds;
now he's on the birch branch,
pecking one between his feet.
You can feel him on the back of your hand,
and your husband tapping you,
until you turn, learning the shape of his lips.
The first day he came to us, he was outside,
on the ledge, staring through the picture window,
burrs clinging to his haunches, patches of fur missing,
mad with hunger and dermatitis, fugitive from the woods,
accusing us, pressing his soundless cry against glass.
He ran off.  Next day, we saw him beneath the blue spruce,
his body absorbed into the darkness of the ground,
eyes like lights risen from a depth.  We knelt, and called,
saved him from a diet of crickets, removed swollen ticks,
black blood bursting over thumbnails, spoke to his
survivor's nervousness, arguing a world safe, where love
growls in every tree, mercy squeals, the heart fails.
We saved him again as we returned from the beach,
the smell of sand and sea clinging to towels
and folding chairs.  He came limping toward us, wincing
at our touch, panting like an old miner with black lung.
His bladder blocked.  Those little stones
accreted from his ashy fears, anger's alkali unfulfilled,
he would soon bloat like a child dying of hunger,
acting out the news of crop failures, helpless,
empathic.  The vet removed his penis.
A urethra now wide, to pass the sediments of maleness,
made him no more female than Ethiopian marble
or the altered bulls of Pamplona.  That didn't matter.
What astonished was his reaction to the anesthetic:
his balding stomach; a grayish pink showing between
his incipient nipples.  It was knowing he wasn't ebony
to his bones.  It was the soft feel of his baby skin,
the gradual, darkening fuzz of his body's assumptions,
the way he pulled at his fur, combing it with his teeth,
the tips of white hairs like slivers of moon-fire
flickering in the space between his golden eyes.
          (after an exhibit of recent
            painting from Germany)
Shades of sun daubed like make-up
beneath the eyes.  A sameness.
Baselitz's women hanging upside-down,
almost always blonde, the skeletal church
each side of them what's left
of a grasp flensed to the bone,
and upstairs, the lemon-colored land
too far from sea, too grainy
between the burned-out Panzer tanks.
Though the serpent curling toward
sleeping Paganini is golden,
the swastikas floating from the musician's nose
are not.  Musical notes like little
death heads.
                         One goes to whiteness.
       And black.  Greta Garbo facing
       Erich von Stroheim, madonna and magus;
       charcoal-limned Warhol and Mussolini
       cartoon-serious, flat wings of a triptych,
       as we fracture and reassemble
       around something American,
       something red,
       something splayed like the painter
       dead in a phone booth:
       the moon hanging its canary lozenge
       over a scarlet city,
      pelicans with green wings thrashing the air,
      partly air-borne, their bodies dripping from the dark river,
              flames leaping from the wire
              trash basket in Tompkins Square Park
      (on the way home, reading Rilke's
      "Kindheit," mother's fingers
      sliding across the piano's white keys,
                     Harlem skidding past,
                     the train rushing north),
      Consonants in titles
      escape translation
      where g's go mad with diaspora
      and loneliness
      and violence         homage
                              to van Gogh at the wall,
                              to greenness at the Bahnhof,
                              to the gagging reflex in
                              Cafe Deutschland IV,
                              barbed wire, stone, tape recorders,
                              binoculars, mushroom-shaped lamps,
                              long coats, die Polizei,
      flickering ruby glow of an auto burning.
It's like entering the belly of an apocalyptic
beast, while it sleeps,
limp brushes hanging down, undigested
forms of sea life,
                  the boy, its prisoner,
taking coins, scrubbing road salt from rear
lenses, stabbing at our hubcaps.
We read of teetering stocks,
the Middle East.  I look at bodies of gassed
Kurds, I count pictures of the homeless,
bulls-eye upright bears in a shooting gallery,
bing, bing, I can hear the crack of .22's,
      casings hit the floor.
And the brushes come alive,
the yellow ones on each side,
buffing our doors, folding back the sideview mirrors,
catching the rear wiper arm that sticks out
like a compound fracture,
                      the muddy ooze
washing down the windshield,
all this hissing, flashing of lights
telling when wax spurts all over us
like sperm, premature,
the beast coming into itself,
as we proceed,
fingers darkened with politicians
pounding the podium, soldiers
beating a boy, burnoosed men
throwing missiles,
                   the fine spray
fanning along the car,
dancing strips of chamois
dragging overhead,
            here's ul-Haq blown to bits,
            Bangladesh 3/4th's flooded
      where every minute's lost
      to the Ganges, Jamuna, and Meghna
      the centrifugal-stiff
      fibers of the wheeling brush
      drooping behind us like post-hurricane
      trees on the Cayman Islands,
      as we emerge with chrome into sunlight,
      dropping quarters into the damp boy's cup,
      speeding down route 52 without a care in the world.
 From LOEW'S TRIBORO (2004)
It was easy as lying to our mothers.  As living in Queens
          across from Manhattan, walking over
the bridge connecting three boroughs, looking
down on the nut house on Ward’s Island, one of us
          dribbling a basketball.  Eggs in our
pockets, we sneaked into the Loew’s theater through
          the back door. The old vaudeville stage
behind the movie screen moving with the shadow of
Bogart and his lisp.  One of us just out of jail for sticking
          up a drug store.  His father leaving him
there two extra days to teach him a lesson. We climbed
          up the ladder along the side of the
screen, behind a fake Renaissance curtain, looked out at
the audience in the dark, the glowing cigarettes, Hank,
          whose father ran a dry-goods
store on Steinway Street, slipping his hand under a girl's skirt. 
          Checking the material.  A script
flickering at our loins.  The newsreel releasing survivors
into sunlight, arms thin as the stripes on their pajamas. 
          Eleanor’s father on the corner of Broadway
waving pamphlets for the Labor Party.  Eleanor not yet
          in her marine boy-friend's room getting
shot to death.  We reached the little balcony, the Wurlitzer
organ draped with an old carpet, the bad smell of Father
          Flaherty's breath.  We kept going. 
At the top of the screen, from behind a decorative
          molding, we saw our neighbors sucking
Black Crows, rolling darkness in their mouths.  And
we started.  The eggs cool from Sonny’s aunt's
          refrigerator flew across
the night sky blinking down from light-bulb space.  They
          landed like doves breaking apart on Hank's
chest, a gooey wound on the girl's skirt.  They slid out of our
hands like ghosts, uncle's loud jokes descending at his
          sister's second wedding, groans
splurting in the night, a rifled mischief rotating in the air,
          concussed, spun by history's grooves,
while Jerry down there with his polio leg in a brace
raised himself on the splattered yolky arms of his seat
          and roared, shaking his fist.
It wasn’t just the war.  Or wearing a little officer’s uniform,
          the leather strap across my chest
like a seat belt so I wouldn’t hit my head on the future. 
My sister turning so red from measles she lit up the dingy
          back room where mother siphoned
electricity from the hall fixture.  It wasn’t poverty that pulled
          darkness down.  Maybe the slap
across the face, my mother’s glasses flying across the kitchen,
my father swaying like a branch some bird just left, flying away
          from emptiness.  But two nights
later, I’d hear them grunting in the bedroom, so it wasn’t homily
          or forgiveness.  That’s not why
my eyes dilated against the light, against the laws of the body and
reason.  Or why they opened wide in the cigarette smoke of movie
          balconies.  Seeing what wasn’t there.          
The novel lying on the table, its front cover up, no likeness of anyone on it, no landscape on the dust jacket, the film already running, she knows she is trying the story for a second time.  Trying to get it right.  Being a leggy blonde in shorts and silk blouse with shoulder pads, a stylish turban wound around her head. Aware he's the hired man.  The one who picked up the help-wanted sign blown down in a rain storm, the other sign still up there banging in the wind, promising lunch and dinner.  Her husband's road-side restaurant where she works.  Her husband's promise.  What hungry men think they want.
Now she's swimming with him near the cliffs in high tide on a moonlit evening.  They come out of the water and she laughs in his arms, the two of them clasping each other.  He tells her how much he wants her, how he's wandered through small towns ever since the war ended, looking for her, when the motorcycle policeman in jodhpurs was squinting at him, and the district attorney, a fedora knocked back on his head, drove up in a coupe and gave a lift to the smart-ass veteran in rolled-up sleeves.  Who was him.  Which is how he got here.
And he looked up at the sign.  The husband clapped him on the back.  She came out needing a light, looking him up and down, disgusted.  Which says how much she likes him.  And she knows later the husband is drinking too much, doing his accounts.  He hardly looks at her because she's like dinnerware that hasn't broken yet.  Debts floating a slow blackjack overhead.  And that's how it happens. The second chance.  With him.  The hired man.
The question being how long she believes in accidents. The wet road, the drinking, him unshaven, hearing police sirens that aren't there, her hand under his shirt--which is a lot of skin just after the war--the California coastline a kind of lumpy snake that bumps them off the road.  And he's crushed by the steering wheel.  She's leaning back from the dash, blood all over her slacks.  And he's in front of his restaurant, on a ladder, putting up another sign.  The husband.
(After The Postman Always Rings Twice, 1946)
It’s what the blonde wants him to believe about her story.  It’s what the dick wanted him to remember about his past.  It’s why he walks through rusted shadows of the El that cut across three city streets and he hears confessions from all sides.  They want him to explain who they are, their voices hovering like the notes of a string quartet, that buzz in the air the hesitation of melody.  What’s childhood but a father who can’t give up his women, a mother not allowed to take her son away from the hot, noisy  calle.  The dark young girl with the velvet skin said she would love him under the faithful stars forever and then she said goodbye.  The body a bag of lies.  Take the stairs, how an aunt tumbles down the spiral into a heap.  He was already on Riverside Drive Under the street lamp, lighting up, thinking about the cigarette case found in a vestibule.  The wife in flagrante.  The big smile of the blue-collar boy friend who didn’t speak French, couldn’t understand her uptown friends or her evenings of perfect silence at the Hotel Colón, the Pension Isabella.  Her suitcase with decals like scabs.  Her gun at her throat when he leaves.  Accident or intent, the same slashing odor, the blood-mapped wall.  Take justice out of the thing, out of accident, out of unconscious spite--get rid of the unconscious-- it’s what the old stripper lies about, hiding her bottle, waving off men who left before her looks crashed:  “I want nothing but air on all sides of me.”  It’s why his father left his mother.  The stars twittering like traffic lights up and down the avenue, where everything falls to earth.
(After the life and work of Cornell Woolrich, 1903-1968)

Greyhound from L.A. to Frisco, the steep fall from the coastal highway toward the sea like Joan Crawford in a convertible out of control, my lost job tumbling down the slope.   Whatever’s been chasing me not finding me.  Not my landlady’s husband in Culver City, her body’s rent coming due again, not him roaring out of the driveway, tracking the absence that was really himself.  Savings account cleaned out, my file empty, the man who wasn’t here, my mind always crossing a river, to visit a sick father.  Mother looking thin and forgotten.  A sister who keeps moving back in.  Now it’s Nob Hill, the boarding house, the girl at breakfast telling me I’ve a funny accent.  Another long street leading down to water.  Something changing.  Something drowned.  The cottage back in Culver City coated with the dust from a B-movie set, the blow her husband landed on my head a geography I stumble through. 
Imagine being in the mountains, looking at the stars, remembering.  Imagine a city with trees blooming in tenements.  A background music so low that Sol the grocer leaves his store to listen.  Imagine no down payment.  A world of credit, where sister survives. Poetry in the streets, cafés, the asylum.  Prophecy streaking my mind on a regular basis.  Imagine being inside the film, looking out.  Father in the Studio Bar on 34th Avenue, lighting a cigarette in the glow of the Schaeffer's sign.  Mother not, after all these years, getting groceries on the cuff.  Imagine me riding to rescue no one.  Not even myself.  The credits rolling down the sky, along the road, name after name.      
North now.  Fog.  The bus blocked by snow in the Sierra Nevada pass.  I stumble out to get some air, in a khaki trench coat.  Pee into a blinding whiteness.  Back on board, the soldiers going to Chicago think I'm an officer, my speech bright with souvenirs.  Later, down from the mountain, we stop in a town like a border town.  There's the government man from Ride a Pink Horse eating in the Café of Three Violets, stabbing toast into the yolks of eggs, a yellowish stain on the tips of his fingers like sulfa used to treat a wound.  Children wearing amulets from the Mexican provinces, dresses stitched by their mothers, they think the man in the trench coat is checking visas.  The girl wearing her grandmother's shawl, the girl who sees me with nowhere in my eyes, says, "I saw you dead last night."  I laugh and her darkness opens into smiles. 
She will tell her story from town to town.  The officer who waved from the bus.  She will make me huge as an army trampling through corn.
Gone, the Mayan Revival exterior; torn down, the darkness;
          rubble shaped into homes with
common walls; first-floor stores dreaming behind their windows
of pleated skirts, high heels, a silvery music.  Take away the  
          stairs, the velvety hangings,
the zing of small caliber bullets, phony blackmail letters,  
          yesterday's clues.  The sugar dots of
nonpareils I can still taste on my tongue are an abacus
for the number of steps I’d  taken across that floor.  Dissolving
         tiles in a mosaic, bits of a scene
I couldn’t recognize until I was halfway to the balcony and looked
          through the dust-
scented air at the blanks of missing tapestries.  I’m up there,
on a floating height, gazing down on myself, on the ruins of the
         candy stand, on the spirits of thousands
risen from their own forgetfulness--a vast emptiness where they
          wait for someone to restore
a dark colloquy.  The names of Illinois, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah,
Nevada, California, the peeled labels from a suitcase.  As if I’d
          come home with a vocabulary half my own.  Half ghost.      
   From the working manuscript of LOWCOUNTRY (2005)
Reeds, mud grip, shell that forms only
upon shell, this marsh rising and falling
to sea-pulse, moon-drag: news of itself
the only front-page effort worth its
time.  I'm bored with self, the drop-out
ego abashed at how little it confounds
the tide's insistence.  I'm fed up with
a name lifting itself into the breeze
of opinion, the sky's azure only air
that curves to authoring roundness.
Nothing steps out of nature.  Nothing
returns from the vast water that does
not crave its tidal beginning.  Look
across Calibogue Sound, at the three-masted
dredge adding ocean floor to Daufuskie Island:
spewing sand and broken bi-valves, crackled
carapaces, torn whip coral, stag-horn
weed, the sea's waste like the mind's
creaturely ideas sinking to the bottom,
pulverized into voiceless god-ground poverty.
A turning over.  Shuck and thrust.  Hurled
column and collapse.  A foothold reappearing
further from tidy lawns and a porch
filled with tourists in peaked caps, their
glinting binoculars tilted to a sight-line
low as this row of belly-wet pelicans
close to white-caps, profile pterodactyl,
their glide precise as a hand moving over
text, without hesitation, instincted
to its course.  Sucking sound.  Fume-moan.
Stinking blackness.  Shuddering belts,
sudden fling:  the given-up now the only
Or visionary.  Or raw.  Primitive.
Naif.  As if being abandoned in a corn field
at birth, a child of the veil, caul
over her face, weren't enough to send a woman
to the easel.  Except there is no easel.  No
canvas.  Only a door.  So she paints on the door.
"The Devil Have Folks Coming Out His Ears,
Eyes, Mouth and Butt." A deaf man leans
toward red geraniums blooming just before a frost
and he scolds them, "You fools!"  Another
paints with mud and molasses--showing
the wealthy the true nature of their homes
on plaster board that they hang in their
parlors.  Here's the piano cow with ivory keys
along her spine.  A gray-haired Mary holding
the dead Christ, painted on the lid of a flour       
drum.  Who has ever seen her in her age?  An old man's
face on dented rusted tin has his own kind
of crumpled truth.  There was a man who painted
his sofa, his floor, his lamp shades, toilet tank,
visions pouring out of his long brush.
It arrives any time of life.  The seeing.
The feel that is texture.  The bright pinks
and greens of a fractured dawn, the dewless
smooth petals, the voice in the tree, where twin
peacocks face each other, "You will bloom forever."
            Performed by a South African troupe
                 at the Spoleto Festival
Lucifer is speaking Xhosa, Afrikaans, English; the hell
mouth of one self-begot;  flames escaping the open
stage floor.  In the galley above, Raphael explaining
fallen brightness should consider itself less than
perfection; evil the loss of degree, the failure of
patience.  The man next to me reeking of after-shave,
golden chain around his neck; his 60+years a flaw
in hotel mirrors: astringent unguents the distilled
memory of Eden.  He's suffocating us.  A sweet raw
chemical tracking through our lungs, upending
taste, a mineral heaviness in our words, until
later in the warm air of Charleston, meanings fall
unprovoked from us, unimplored, the grace of evening
filtering down from stars that burned out so long ago.
It's not as if ospreys came late to nest in the steel
towers of a harbor, "But another year like this one
and I'm out of business." British Open Pub.  Fitzgerald's. 
Café Maxx. Da Vinci's Pizza.  Appetite gone out
of luxury like the hollow of a walnut shell, the blank
face a child turns to the moon.  A saw palmetto rasps
in the wind.  Nettles hang in January trees casting thin
shadows on the water, quietness cracked by workmen
repairing rotted decks, shoring up a premonition.   
Across the lagoon, they're breaking up the entrance
to Villamare, the dust rising from jackhammers
coating the window I share with Beau, who's licking
the bald patch where the vet sampled his old cat's
blood.  And I smell it, too, my groin still aching
from the cardiologist's puncture.  Cormorants cruising
suddenly dive deep, the hooked ends of need scraping
slimy bottom, and up they come, alert heads turned
to the thumping backhoe, the gouged-out fountain bowl,
while Beau crouches where a wren flits from feeder
to myrtle, the little song he twitters in the back of his
throat fooling no one, in a milky haze like the air
over bombed cities,  the war in distant mountains,
what wakes me before dawn.  The both of us hunched
to the wildness in our hearts, something heedless
still dancing there as we watch the flown and crumbled
across the lagoon, stuttering into the ground.  
Rainy day.  I'm going out on route 278,
turning left at Squire Pope Road, where
lookouts in trees once scanned Port Royal
Sound for Union ships. I'm parking, walking
past wet bicycles tagged at $75, their miles
metallic with odors of fatback and collards
beginning to ferment.  Inside, tripping over
vacuum cleaners without wheels, I've bonked an
elbow on small-screen TVs peering blindly
in the echo of pratfalls, sitcom gags slackened
out of their time, fathers in business suits
hallooing into a dark hall, snow drifting
across the hours, into the aisle where I've
picked up lint from chenille bedspreads
stuffed into a sleep of twenty years.  The
Nigerian vendor behind trays of bracelets
and carved bone earrings stands to rearrange
Ghanian coin masks that hang with tarnished
currency, smudged profiles of heroes, the sharp-
nosed Queen; the vacancy of wealth obvious
in papier-maché eye sockets, a coarse cinder-block
wall, the moldering of empire, while I back into
prongs of a barbecue fork, jostle piles of crescent
wrenches, lock-jaw pliers biting uselessly into air. 
A TV Guide slips off its 1980 stack, opening
to programs I must have seen, my mother in ICU,
the flexible tube of the respirator in her mouth,
her eyes searching, looking toward the grimy
blinds of a window and the wall that opens beyond.
I'm here among rotted spines of arithmetic
books signed on the title page by sixth-graders
with a flourish toward fame.  An old Remington
half-revealed in its stained case like the one
I hocked to pay the rent, going for weeks in long
hand on East Sixth Street, salsa pulsing the walls
as I lift the maple top of the TV/stereo combo and
spin the turntable with a 45-rpm adapter slipped
down the spindle like a tourniquet to slow
the rhythm of need, while the young couple
behind me grows bored with watching such dim
progress among pink Depression glass and green
chipped pitchers that someone poured lemonade
from in 1948 after a scorching day delivering
laundry.  But there's no cord to plug into this
bulbous chrome percolator.  No way to warm
the last drop.  Or sweep away the scurf of dried-out
foam rubber cushions that kept me upright
when I drew diagrams for Mr. Jablonsky's science
class, made black-ink drawings of Erlenmeyer
flasks.  Standing here among dusty bone china
still running my finger along an edgy whiteness,
the lost heat of a future.               
Remember those Japanese prints and the tale of pines
who softened down their length to become human? 
Even if we wore the ceramic masks of an aged
couple crossing the creek in sudden rain,
     the same rain beating down on the old rice fields 
     all over Jasper County,
by morning you'd be the girl holding her loose sleeve
to her face, while I read from a scroll of plum blossoms,
     promising rejuvenation, describing this beach, this littoral, 
     these washed-up leopard crabs snipping the air to right
the tangle of whelk egg casing an interior thrown
clear, each pin-prick hole a birth toward hardness
drawn from the sea,
     a dim light moving like the brush of an
     artist mourning the pleasure districts
     passing from the memory of his city,
time and the narrow bridge over Broad River
the spans that grayness begets of gray,
     the ante-bellum silence of old homes
     in Beaufort the humid intake of an unjust age
     and the sweet crumbling of a luncheon cake,
this moment given for walking through the cast-
up swash line into early evening, dried spartina
crackling beneath our step,
     loss and waste washing into the sea, pelicans
     gliding out of fog, their faces shaped to a long hunger.  


3 - Biography

John Allman is the author of six books of poetry: Loew's Triboro (2004), Curve Away from Stillness (1989), Scenarios for a Mixed Landscape (1986), and Clio's Children (1985), all from New Directions; Inhabited World: New & Selected Poems 1970-1995 (The Wallace Stevens Society Press, 1995); and Walking Four Ways in the Wind in the Princeton Series of Contemporary Poets (Princeton University Press, 1979). He has recently completed a seventh poetry collection, Lowcountry, most of which will appear as issue #31 of the online journal Mudlark in early 2006.  He is at work on a new book of short stories, A Fine Romance. His first short story collection was Descending Fire & Other Stories (New Directions, 1994).

The recipient of a Pushcart Prize in Poetry as well as two fellowships in poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Helen Bulls Prize from Poetry Northwest, Allman's poems, stories, and essays have been widely published in such journals as The American Poetry Review, The Atlantic Monthly, The Antioch Review, The Massachusetts Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, the North Dakota Quarterly, Paris Review, Poetry, Poetry International, The Quarterly, and The Yale Review, as well as the online journals Full Circle, Blackbird, Slope, and Enskyment. Allman holds an MA in Creative Writing from Syracuse University and is now retired from teaching. He lives in Katonah, New York, and spends his winters on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.  


4 - Afterword

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